Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Taking Stock of the Tight 'Toon Market

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Taking Stock of the Tight 'Toon Market

Article excerpt

Editorial cartoonists and others discuss ways to increase income in a profession where syndication isn't always the Holy Grail

Is it true that "the only people who don't want to be syndicated are the people who are syndicated"?

Lee Salem was exaggerating when he made that statement at the recent Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) convention in Minneapolis. But his intent was to indicate that syndication isn't always the promised land.

Salem, executive vice president and editor of Universal Press Syndicate, noted that many syndicated creators don't have a lot of newspaper clients. So what's an editorial cartoonist to do?

Speakers at two AAEC sessions had several suggestions about increasing income inside and outside of syndication.

Editorial cartoonist Dick Wright, who moved from United Media to the Los Angeles Times Syndicate last year, said he built a client list of 380 papers partly through his own selling efforts.

Wright noted that a typical syndicate heavily promotes a feature during its first year. Then, the next wave of features commands most of the attention.

"Syndicate salespeople might have 200 features. The chances of yours being shown every time they visit a newspaper is folly," said Wright. "They're showing new stuff."

So Wright periodically contacts papers himself. "I've made as many as six sales in one day, and as many as 100 in a year," he said, adding that new clients are especially important because editorial cartoonists "are always going to lose" some papers.

But even lots of papers don't always mean lots of money. Some have been paying as little as $5 or $6 a week for years. "I've had editors drop me because the rates increased 25 a week," said Wright.

Web sites are also potential clients for syndicated or self-syndicated creators doing static or animated cartoons.

"In 1999, 30% of our new revenues came from the Web side of the business," reported Salem. "That will rise this year."

Cyber clients include newspaper and non-newspaper sites -- with the latter usually paying more. "Some sites have tons of money that they'll even give to cartoonists," deadpanned attorney Stuart Rees, who represents cartoonists.

Many cartoonists go the self-syndicated route because of the difficulty in getting signed by a major distributor. Salem said Universal takes on a new editorial cartoonist only once every 18 to 24 months.

Salaries keep some solvent

Editorial cartoonists with staff positions usually make most of their money from their newspaper salaries. But getting one of these 150 or so jobs isn't easy.

St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press Editorial Page Editor Ron Clark said cartoonists can increase their chances by doing things such as illustrations, caricatures, and graphics.

Vaughn Larson, who moderated one of the sessions, has taken this jack- of-all-trades approach to the nth degree. At The Review in Plymouth, Wis., he draws cartoons, does editing, writes stories, takes photos, and helps bundle the semiweekly paper.

Chris Britt of The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., and Copley News Service said one of his early jobs involved selling legal ads and doing one cartoon a week.

Whether a cartoonist is seeking a staff job or syndication, persistence can pay off.

"It's all about having the right cartoon land on the right desk at the right time. …

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